Wheeling Park Pool. Deep end near where the high drive once stood. Twelve-and-a-half feet of all water and, of course, zero oxygen.
And a male special needs student was motionless resting on the bottom of the pool.
Hesitation? Nope. Seconds after the boy sank to an apparent death, this guy shed only his radio but not much else before diving, securing, and saving the then 13-year-old’s life.
Sgt. John Schultz is a 21-year veteran of the Wheeling Police Department, who has worked as the aquatic supervisor for the Chambers YMCA and for the Wheeling Park Commission. The Ohio County student wasn’t his first save; in fact, it was his 13th.
Thirteen. Lives. Saved.
This time, though, he was a police officer and not an on-duty lifeguard, and that meant he was strapped with his gun belt and handgun, duty boots, and handcuffs.
“The kids were at the Wheeling Park pool during their eighth grade picnic, and I was on the pool deck at the time because it was natural for me to walk around and watch the water because of my background,” explained the 1981 graduate of Wheeling Park High School. “That’s when I heard an emergency whistle, and immediately I saw one of my students at the bottom of the pool. That’s when I went into motion.
“I immediately took off my radio, and I dove straight down into the water and got to the bottom pretty quickly,” Schultz continued. “I got to the student, brought him up to the surface and got him out of the pool. That’s when I administered CPR and brought him back, thankfully. The student could swim, but I don’t think a lot of people realize how quickly something like this can happen to a person who can swim well.”
While on watch at what was supposed to be a celebration of the beginning of summer, Schultz wasn’t looking for trouble, but instead he was making sure his kids were safe.
“In all the years I spent as a lifeguard, I can say it’s not something that you think about necessarily because when you see something, you just go into motion and do what you have to do,” he said. “And afterward you are only thankful that you were there to do what you did so it wasn’t a much worse situation than it was. It is rewarding to save a life, but that’s not what you are thinking about while you’re on watch.
“And in end you’re just happy that a horrible thing didn’t happen,” Schultz continued. “It’s not something you ever get used to; I can tell you that.”
Once the middle schooler was placed back on the pool deck and was successfully resuscitated, EMTs from the Wheeling Fire Department took control of caring for the student.
“The response by our fire department was amazing. They were on the scene very, very quickly so that’s when the EMTs took over the situation after I, a bus driver, and the other lifeguards did what we needed to do until they arrived,” recounted the 1991 graduate of West Liberty University. “Even though that student was at the bottom of the pool for only a few seconds before he was brought up and out, there were still a lot of things for the EMTs to do to avoid any complications in the future.
“It happened just that quick,” Schultz said. “But it doesn’t take long to get into trouble and to begin swallowing water like that student did. But he recovered very quickly, and a horrible situation was avoided, thank God.”
Sgt. Schultz has been with the Wheeling Police Department since 1995 and accepted the position as Prevention Resource Officer at Wheeling Middle and Ritchie schools six years ago. No matter what the situations have entailed during those two decades, he has always reflected an effort to improve his future actions, including his live-saving efforts at Wheeling Park.
“Immediately I was scared because I know things could have gone a lot worse than they did. You always second-guess yourself because you always think if you could have done something more to avoid the situation in the first place,” he said. “In that situation I concluded that there wasn’t something else I could have done, and that’s when I was just happy I was in that position to help out that young boy. Sometimes in life bad things happen right in front of you, and you just have deal with those things the best you can.”
It was while employed as an aquatic instructor when Schultz realized he worked well with children, and those experiences allowed him to believe a PRO position was a direction in which he could be successful.
“I was involved with a lot of different programs including the lifeguarding, first aid, and CPR,” he explained. “It was a fun time in my life, and I had a lot of opportunities to work with a lot of young people, so when I had the chance to become a prevention resource officer, it seemed like a natural progression to go into the schools and teach some non-traditional classes.
“I’ve always liked law enforcement, and I had an uncle who was with the department for 33 years,” continued Schultz, who also works with the D.A.R.E. program. “I always respected and looked up to him, and that’s why I started as a military policeman while serving in the U.S. Army Reserves during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield. After that I took the test and joined the Wheeling Police Department.”
But the position, he’s learned, involves much more than security.
“It is rewarding because we’re there to protect the children, of course, but we’re also there to do anything we can to help the teachers and the administration,” Schultz explained. “Plus, we mediate at-risk youth along with the counselors, and we’re always looking at the security for the schools.
“A great deal of my interaction with the students usually has to do with the current topics in our area and in the country because they pay more attention to things than I think most of think,” he said. “This week I’ve had a lot of the kids come to me and want to talk politics that concern some of the things that are going on in our society. Even the fifth graders have been asking me the same questions as the children at Wheeling Middle. They want to know why these things are happening.”
These are not adult conversations, however, even if the subject matter is usually one of mature nature. That fact, Schultz explained, means he must concentrate on how he offers his answers and his advice.
“When they ask their questions, they can be very specific, and it’s important to me to offer them age-appropriate answers that I know they can relate to,” the officer said. “They are just trying to understand because not only are they hearing it on the news, they are also hearing their parents and other adults talk about it. They just want to have an understanding.
“They want to know about the shootings that are taking place, and they want to understand the issues in our country, too,” he said. “I don’t remember paying that much attention to those things when I was young, so it shows you the differences that are present now from when I was a kid.”
One two occasions Schultz has received the statewide Prevention Officer of the Year Award, most recently in August, and also he was honored with the “Top Cop” Award from the National Association of Police Organizations.
“What an experience it was going to Washington, D.C., to receive the ‘Top Cop’ and the state POR of the Year awards,” Schultz said. “I had the chance to meet some incredible people, and I had the opportunity to see some things that I had never seen before. It was during National Police Week, so there were a lot of topics covered that I had a lot of interest in.
“Congressman (David) McKinley (R-WV1) spent a lot of time with me and my wife and some other family members, and it was great to have the chance to speak with him, too, about what we do in the schools” he said. “During a speech he did on the House floor he spoke about what the police are doing in our schools, and he also recognized me personally, and that meant a lot to me and my family.”
The kids want to know much more than just why a reality TV host is running for the American presidency, and that is because of what takes place in their personal lives. There’s conflict, there’s divorce, and there’s drugs, and all the while the children learn a little more about law enforcement than what they see and hear from the media.
“We have a huge drug problem in our community. That’s not a secret,” Schultz said. “And our community has a lot of broken relationships that really, really impact the children. So I get to be with these kids and help educate them about getting into certain lifestyles that may lead them down a very bad path.
“They also have the chance to see that I am a person, too, and that gives everyone a chance to build that trust and to build that bond between the children and the police,” he said. “That’s what every prevention resource does, and those relationships last for years and years. I have kids now who are in high school and in college, and when I see them, it’s always a great reunion because of the relationship that we built while they were in my schools. That means everything to me.”
(Photos provided by Sgt. John Schultz)